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In search of Lőrinc Szabó memorial plaques on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea

I first met Lóránt Kabdebó in person in 2003. This was preceded by a short correspondence. When I asked him to tell me where we could meet, the short answer was, at his home. In Zagreb, I could not imagine a university professor inviting me to his home for a professional discussion. The Professor welcomed me so warmly as if we were old acquaintances, and the first question his wife, Marianne, asked me was whether I would like lunch as she had cooked stew. My self-consciousness quickly disappeared. The reason for the meeting was of course Lőrinc Szabó. The Department of Croatian Studies of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Fiume, the Department of Hungarian Studies of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Zagreb, the Department of Cultural History of ELTE, the Balassi Bálint Institute of Budapest and the Archives of Fiume organised a conference in Fiume on 3 and 4 October 2003 entitled Fiume and Hungarian Culture (Fiume és a magyar kultúra). I wanted to make a presentation for that event. Lőrinc Szabó visited Fiume several times and wrote poems about the town – this was my original starting point.

Professor Kabdebó, whom I still called Professor at the time, and only much later was I able to accept his request to call him by his first name, soon sent me the articles the poet had written during his first posting to Fiume and published in Est and Pesti Napló. I presented these in my paper, and they marked the beginning of my research on Lőrinc Szabó. It was thanks to Lóránt’s friendliness, helpfulness and encouragement that I joined the ranks of those researching the poet’s life and work. A year before our meeting, on 8 June 2002, a memorial plaque commemorating the poet’s holiday in Schwarzwald (Black Forest) was unveiled in Titisee, and soon the idea of erecting a memorial plaque on the Adriatic coast was on the table. Where should the plaque be placed? Lóránt entrusted me with the task of choosing the location, as I was then researching Lőrinc Szabó’s posting to Fiume. Based on my findings at the time, the plaque could have been placed in the port city. As described in the article “Icebergs in the Chianti Sea”, the poet joined a group of familiar Hungarians for dinner at a restaurant called Ornitorinco (platypus). I travelled to Fiume to visit the site, but the building in Via Garibaldi, now Adamić Street 5, which I had found out about in the archives, housed a shop at the time and, therefore, did not seem suitable for a memorial plaque. Today, the Google map shows a sign for a hotel/apartment next to the other entrance door of the building. Another restaurant is mentioned in a letter written by the poet’s wife, Nagyklára, on their second trip to Dalmatia, where the poet had dined with Nagyklára and Kisklára on their first trip to Dalmatia. This was the former Masarykovo šetalište, now Šetalište Andrija Kačića Miočića, on the promenade at numbers 5 and 6, but the building was not considered appropriate due to its bad state of repair. After my research revealed that in 1934 Lőrinc Szabó had stayed at the former Regina Elena Hotel in Abbazia, now the Hotel Imperial, we chose this hotel.

I can claim that our correspondence during this time was very frequent as we wrote letters on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. On the one hand, I wrote to Lóránt about the results of my archival research and the data I had found, and on the other hand, about my experiences after “checking the locations”. Then we decided on the Hotel Imperial. Then the negotiations took place. From the Croatian side I took the role of coordinator. As a lecturer in the Department of Hungarian Studies at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Zagreb, I had already informed the head of the department of our intention, who then presented it to the university administration and obtained the agreement of the institution. Then I visited the office of the Croatian Tourist Board in Abbazia and outlined our request to the director of the Tourist Board of the City of Abbazia, Jasna Doričić-Sanković. I agreed with her on the details of the plaque. I can say that, although it took a lot of work and time, they were all open to receiving the Lőrinc Szabó memorial plaque. From the Hungarian side, Lóránt Kabdebó paved the way for the dedication of the plaque. He won the support of the Szabó Lőrinc Research Centre of the University of Miskolc and the Szabó Lőrinc Foundation, and negotiated with István Policsányi, the maker of the plaque, on how to raise the funds. He also thought about who would represent the Hungarian institutions at the unveiling and invited some students from the schools bearing the name of Lőrinc Szabó to recite the poet’s poems. On the Croatian side, I arranged for the relevant officials to be invited. The inauguration of the memorial plaque took place on 24 September 2004. The guests were welcomed by Jasna Doričić-Sanković, followed by speeches by Željko Rolih, Director of the Profitni centar Kvarner-Imperial in Abbazia on behalf of the Hotel Imperial, and Ranko Vlatković, Mayor of Abbazia. Further addresses were given by László Mohai, Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary to Zagreb, Dr. Milka Jauk-Pinhak, Head of the Department of Hungarian Studies at the University of Zagreb. Prof. Dr. Lóránt Kabdebó, Head of the Lőrinc Szabó Research Centre, delivered the keynote speech. The events leading up to the plaque’s inauguration had been one of the saddest days of my life: a few days before, my father, who lived in Vojvodina, had passed away and I had to travel to Abbazia after his funeral. I had to hold on – I still don’t know how I did it. What has remained etched in my memory is the compassion and understanding of Lóránt. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to his openness to new technological advances, something that only became clear to me later, but I still remember how proudly he pointed to the flash drive hanging around his neck: “This contains all our correspondence.”

The second memorial plaque was placed in the lobby of the Hotel Petka in Raguza /Dubrovnik on 20 April. Since our “division of labour” had worked out well with the plaque dedication in Abbazia, we decided to work the same way again. We organised the ceremony, which was hosted by the Hotel Petka, on behalf of the City of Miskolc, the Szabó Lőrinc Research Centre of the University of Miskolc, the Szabó Lőrinc Foundation, the Department of Hungarian Studies of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Zagreb. The guests were welcomed by Ivan Jarak, Deputy Director, followed by Deputy Mayor Vedran Jelavić, Head of the Department of Maritime Studies at the University of Dubrovnik, and then by Antal Disztl, First Secretary of the Embassy of Hungary in Zagreb and Academician Luko Paljetak, representing Matica hrvatska, Dubrovnik. Franciska Ćurković-Major spoke about how they managed to identify the accommodation of Lőrinc Szabó in Dubrovnik.  The keynote speech was also given by Professor Lóránt Kabdebó. Finally, students from the Lapad Primary School performed the poems “To a leander from Ragusa” and “To the dalmatian crickets”. We were particularly pleased that the students’ Croatian teacher had been a student of our department a few years before.

The location of Lőrinc Szabó’s accommodation in Ragusa (Dubrovnik) was also the subject of a lengthy “investigation.” The records mention a hotel called Petra, but there was no such hotel listed in the hotel directories of the time in Ragusa. When describing the location of the first ‘Dalmatian’ holiday, I came to the conclusion that it could only have been the Petka hotel in the port of Gruz. This building was bombed at the end of the Second World War and is now the site of a modern hotel. This is where the plaque was placed. For the period of these events, the institution hosting the plaque provided accommodation for Professor Kabdebó and his wife, the publicist Marianne Dobos, and so did the hotel in Ragusa (Dubrovnik). There was only one problem: Lóránt and Marianne’s dog, Wendy, as the hotel was not dog-friendly. We were nervous about how Marianne was going to sneak Wendy in and out, but she handled it coolly, taking the dog in and out, hidden under her poncho. The day after the unveiling of the plaque, we went sightseeing, not to admire the tourist attractions of the city, but to visit the places where the poet lived or stayed during his first and second holidays in Ragusa. For Lóránt, today’s Put Ive Vojnovića Street was particularly interesting, because I identified the building at number 5 with the Stefany boarding house where the poet and his son had stayed in 1937. We walked around the area and I showed Lóránt where I thought the scene of the poem “Lóci and the gorge” might have been. During my research, Lóránt always encouraged me to try to get as much and as accurate information as possible about the places and events associated with the poet’s travels. Sometimes I wondered about the importance of these, but seeing Lóránt’s feverish interest reassured me that my ‘investigations’ had a real reason and a real meaning.

The third commemorative plaque was placed on the façade of the arcade of the Ferry Port Authority in the Harbour of Korčula on 21 May 2011 thanks to the support of the Szabó Lőrinc Research Centre of the University of Miskolc, the Szabó Lőrinc Foundation, the Department of Hungarian Studies of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Zagreb and the City of Korčula. The ceremony was hosted by the Director of the Tourist Board of Korčula, Stanka Kraljević, and opened by the Mayor of Korčula City, Mirko Duhović. Lídia Jósvai, Cultural Counsellor and Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary to Zagreb, gave a commemorative address. Franciska Ćurković-Major, lecturer at the Department of Hungarology, presented her research results, and Dr. Lóránt Kabdebó, Head of the Lőrinc Szabó Research Centre, delivered the tribute speech. Lőrinc Szabó’s poem “What else?” was read by the poet from a sound recording, while the Croatian translation of the poem “Conversation with the Sea” was recited by the performer Tonči Gatti from Korčula. The history of the plaque in Korčula was perhaps the most exciting. In each case, Lóránt informed me of the circumstances surrounding the making of the plaque, but in this case, the process of raising the funds was very slow. He had always managed to do this by submitting applications, but in this case, he repeatedly expressed his concern that progress was not being made. We were already on the island of Korčula when his mobile phone rang and he was informed that the necessary funds had been obtained and that the Hungarian Government would cover the cost of the plaque. So, he could relax and enjoy the ceremony, the kind hospitality that followed and, last but not least, the beauty of the town. Since then, Lóránt’s words have become a household quote in our family: “Korčula is like a jewel box.”

Unfortunately, the many good experiences were soon followed by depressing events. In 2011, I was informed by a tourist visiting Dubrovnik and wishing to see the memorial plaque that it was not in the lobby of the Hotel Petka. The hotel had not informed any of the institutions that had erected the plaque. Nor was it known to Mr. Jarak, who was deputy director at the time and later retired. The new management of the hotel, with or without the owner’s knowledge, has done nothing to restore the plaque, despite two years of wrangling, including my requests by letter and telephone calls. I wrote to several institutions for help, and Lóránt even told the then Croatian ambassador in Budapest about the case, but nothing happened even after his intervention, and everyone replied that the matter was the hotel’s business. Thus, there was no other solution than asking the hotel to return the plaque, which after more than two years of homelessness, found its home in the (then girls’) dormitory in Dubrovnik in 2013. It is still in the same building at Učenički dom Dubrovnik, Branitelja Dubrovnika 27. This dormitory and the Croatian Kindergarten, Primary School, Secondary School and Dormitory in Budapest are twinned.

These were also happy but exciting days for the memorial plaque in Abbazia. At the time when the plaque was erected in 2004, the Hotel Imperial was state-owned. In the meantime, it was privatised and subsequently renovated. As a result, the plaque was dismounted. When I was informed of this, I contacted the Tourist Board of the City of Abbazia, which took immediate action. Unfortunately, this quick action was not accompanied by due diligence, as the plaque was not placed on the front of the wall next to the entrance, but on the side of the wall, so it is not visible from the street, but can only be noticed directly at the entrance. This has yet to be sorted out.

This raises the question: what will the fate of these plaques be? What about the other plaques: the one in Titisee in the Black Forest in Germany, the one on the entrance pillar of the present Maritim Hotel, the one at the tourist hostel at Macocha Gorge near Brno in the Czech Republic, and finally the one commemorating Lőrinc Szabó’s stay in Avelengo in Italy? What will happen to those who participated in any way in their dedication? If not the answer, some consolation can be found in Lőrinc Szabó’s poem “There are none.” The figures evoked in the poem appear and disappear in the poet’s memory. As he explains, “The low tide, of course, takes them away from us who are still on the other side of time (in life).” We, too, are still on the other side of time, and in our memories the figures of those who look at us from the other side appear. Among them is Lóránt Kabdebó, the soul of the plaque (and not only), the deputy mayor of Dubrovnik, Vedran Jelavić, who, in response to Lóránt’s farewell words, “Make sure you love and protect this plaque,” replied confidently, with a twinkle in his eye, “You can be sure of that. We are proud of it.” And perhaps others who have done something about it… Let us hope that they are, in the words of the poet, “Souls. Spirits”, will be sympathetic to our efforts to care for the memorials and preserve the memory of those who helped to create them.

Ćurković-Major Franciska

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